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This article was first published 2 years ago  » Movies » Bhansali Dedicates Gangubai Kathiawadi to Lataji

Bhansali Dedicates Gangubai Kathiawadi to Lataji

Last updated on: February 11, 2022 17:31 IST
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'It's my humble tribute to a talent that has no limits, no boundaries.'

Photograph: Rediff Archives

Sanjay Leela Bhansali stopped all work on Gangubai Kathiawadi when he heard the news of Lata Mangeshkar's passing.

"To lose Lataji so soon after Pandit Birju Maharaj was soul-shattering to me," he tells Subhash K Jha.

"They are my two all-time idols. Whatever I've learnt about cinema is through their art. I've learnt everything about film-making by listening to Lataji voice. When I discover some rare song of hers, I feel I'm richer than the diamond merchant."

A facet of her talent that Bhansali recognises is how her voice was moulded in every decade.

"There's a different Lata Mangeshkar experience for every decade. It's fascinating to see how differently she has sung for composers from S D Burman to Madan Mohan to R D Burman. Each era has given us an entirely different aura from her voice."

Lataji's penchant for perfection has taken Bhansali's breath away.

"She never lets go of a single word without doing justice to it. Such a frail and delicate voice, and yet so powerful. She has done it all. We cannot have another Lata Mangeshkar. It's my desire to try and reach her level of excellence through my work."

Listening to Lataji's songs is mandatory in Bhansali's life.

"Not a day passes when I don't listen to her. It's the only shield and sustenance I've against the incessant blows from the world. Lataji's voice has healed and nourished me from childhood."

IMAGE: Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor in the song Kuch Na Kaho from 1942: A Love Story.

Bhansali has observed her minutely.

"She fascinated me as a person. I had the privilege of being present during one of her recordings -- Kuch Na Kaho for 1942: A Love Story -- when I was an assistant to (Director) Vinod Chopra. The white kerchief clutched in her hand, the two pleats with a side-parting in her hair... I knew exactly when she looked up while recording a song... Even when she expressed emotions, her face never got screwed up and ugly...

"I was behind her when she came out of her car (to record the song). She looked so beautiful in her diamonds and white sari. When she was escorted to the lift, I followed. Obviously, I didn't have the courage to get into the lift with her. I ran up the stairs as fast as possible. As I watched her sing, I couldn't believe that any human being could generate so much beauty, harmony and goodness through her vocal chords.

"When she left, people outside who had nothing to do with the recording, just stood up spontaneously. That's the kind of aura she possesses. How can such a frail figure can exude such power?

"As a child, I'd read up every titbit and biographical morsel that was served up in the back of the long-playing records... I'd scan magazines for her picture with music directors rather than the heroes and heroines... For me, every detail about her was precious. I've always been intrigued by this woman with the most powerful voice in the world."

Bhansali feels the depths of emotions expressed in that voice are not easy to fathom.

"The mystery she created through the powerful texture of her voice is the most precious mystery of the universe. So many deep emotions expressed with such a straight face! She must be so rich from inside to be able to express feminine beauty in all its shades. How she takes up the most complex notes and makes them sound so effortless is something I've never understood. Was she as powerful as a person as she was as an artiste? I don't know..."

IMAGE: Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor in 1942: A Love Story.

Bhansali's fascination for Lataji is endless.

"Lataji was very mystical... mythical for me. The voice quality is so exceptional she has never been a real person for me. I can't imagine any actual human being being capable of such flawlessness... No, I've never been tempted to examine the actual person beyond the persona.

"Her work will take me 13 lifetimes to unravel the enigma of her creativity. Sometimes she's so maternal, sometimes so devotional... Then so sensual... Lata Mangeshkar epitomises so many different things..."

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in the Pinga song from Bajirao Mastani.

Then Bhansali got an opportunity to meet her personally.

"You took me to meet her. Those two hours with her will remain with me forever. The way she spoke, listened, paused and ruminated... Whenever I passed her home, I wanted to get a glimpse of her on that famous balcony."

Bhansali feels incomplete as a filmmaker.

"I kept hoping maybe one day, she'll sing for my film. My work is so incomplete without her voice... Once she came so close to singing for my film. She drove towards the recording studio where we waited like excited schoolboys with an aarti ka thali, but she had to turn back because of heavy rains... What is not meant to be, won't be... Through her songs, she taught me that excellence, perfection and beauty have no full stops."

As a composer, Bhansali admits his greatest inspiration and motivator is Lata Mangeshkar: "My greatest compliment as a music composer came to me from Lataji for the music of Bajirao Mastani. Lataji has inspired all my films. She told me that the Latpat Latpat opening of my Pinga song was from her song in V Shantaram's Amar Bhoopali. Lataji said she liked my songs and the way I've filmed them.

"Then she affectionately said, 'Aapne mera Latpat Latpat utha liya.'

"I humbly admitted that it was indeed true.

"Bajirao Mastani was a tribute to the voice of Lataji, the music of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and the cinema of K Asif and V Shantaram."


IMAGE: Alia Bhatt in the song Dholida from Gangubai Kathiawadi.

Bhansali made a last-minute addition to Gangubai Kathiawad: He dedicated it to to Lataji.

A frame with the dedication has been added to the opening credits of the film.

"It's my humble tribute to a talent that has no limits, no boundaries," says Bhansali.

The Garba song Dholida from Gangubai Kathiawadi is making waves on the Internet, and Bhansali, who has composed it, says the composition owes its allegiance to the Nightingale.

"Whenever I compose a song, I think of Lataji. I ask my singers to follow her voice."

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone in the Ghoomar song from Padmaavat.

Lataji was also an admirer of Bhansali's movies.

"I have always loved the music of his films," she had said. "Earlier, it was Ismail Darbarji who would do the music. Now, Bhansaliji is doing his own music. I believe a film-maker has to be a musician himself to understand the quality of music needed in his films."

"Bhansaliji has that quality. He has a deep knowledge of music and songs, and of the Indian classical heritage and culture. The song Ghoomar in Padmaavat has revived the appeal of the Ghoomar dance form. People are dancing to it all over the world after watching Deepika Padukone."

She had compared Bhansali to Raj Kapoor: "I believe Bhansaliji has a music sense as sharp as Rajsaab. Rajsaab was a complete musicians. He played the tabla, the harmonium and the piano. He composed songs and sang in his own voice before handing them over to playback singers. He could have easily scored the music in his films, but he chose not to take credit."

According to Lataji, there is one other film-maker who could rival Raj Kapoor's music sense.

"He was Raj Khosla. Like Rajsaab, he too could play several instruments and he sang beautifully. In fact, he came to Mumbai to become a singer, but ended up being a film-maker. I remember Raj Khosla singing Allah-o-Akbar. He could have given playback singers a run for their money. I am sure Bhansaliji also sings well. The only way a film-maker can explain to a singer what he wants to express through his song, is to sing it himself."

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Photograph: Kind courtesy Deepika Padukone/Instagram

Lataji had praised Bhansali's use of colour in his films: "I've not seen the same stunning use of colours in any cinema, but I've seen it in the paintings of the French painter Claude Monet," she told me.

Lataji was an artist herself.

She revealed onvce to me: "I used to paint. My sister Usha paints and so does my nephew Baijnath. In fact, once when Baijnath and I were watching Black, we had noticed his kinship to Monet for the first time. In the Ghoomar song in Padmaavat, the similarities to Monet are unmistakable."

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